One of the most common questions I hear is "when should I start private figure skating lessons" and "how do I go about choosing a figure skating coach."
My best advice is choose a coach that your skater gets along with well, but if you're new to a rink you might not know who that is, or you might feel awkward about approaching someone.
Many rinks also have some version of a private lesson request form, where you note your skater's level, your availability and your contact information.
At some rinks, the form just goes up in the pro's room; the first coach who sees it nabs it. If you don't end up working with that person, don't assume they've reposted the request (in fact I can practically guarantee that they haven't). Fill out a new one. Worse, if he doesn't call you, he might not repost it. If you turn a form in and haven't heard from anyone within a few days, fill out another one and ask to have it posted again. Other rinks have a rotating roster or a seniority system--they give the form to the next person on the list. In systems like this, you're supposed to give it back if it doesn't work out, but again, this doesn't always happen. If you don't sign up with the first coach who calls, fill out another one.
You also do not have to hire the first coach who calls you. You can shop around. Try a lesson, put the form back up. Use this judiciously, because if you do it too many times, word will get around that you're not serious. But it's okay to "audition" two or three coaches, especially if you're on a competitive track or are a higher level (already have axel) skater.
To get the best service from using these forms, here's some things to know:
Do put down the skater's current class level. Don't put down what you think she should be in. Don't write down what skills you think the skater should be learning, or novels about prior good or bad experiences. Don't put down statements like "current teacher is holding him back." Especially don't use skating terms, even if you are confident that know them. A lesson form with excessive information is a great big red flag that says "overinvolved parent." Plenty of time to get obnoxiously over-involved once you and the coach know each other better.
Do put down specific goals if you have them: "help with axel," "start USFS test," "pass Gamma," "lessons during intersession," but keep it brief and specific.
If availability is asked, be flexible. Don't put down the one half-hour slot that is optimum for you, especially if it's during a popular time. Chances are the more desirable coaches are already teaching on that ice. If you say "only available Tuesdays at 4:15" 80% of the coaches are going to pass this up. In addition, don't make up times that aren't offered. Ice isn't just sitting around waiting to accommodate your schedule. Every rink has specific times when coaches are allowed to teach. If there's no ice, I can't come on Saturday at 3 just because it's more convenient for you.
Remember that the lesson form is for that rink. Don't assume that if the ice you want isn't available, you can simply tell the coach to meet you at Rink Across Town.
The price is the price. Coaching fees and ice entry fees are set. They are not flexible, you cannot get discounts. Some coaches charge less than others, but if you tell an interested coach, well so-and-so only charges $X, you're likely to hear, "fine, go skate with so-and-so." Plus, So-and-so will be informed of the conversation (coaches tend to take care of each other when it comes to problem parents).
In general, and especially for lower level skaters (LTS/Basic Skills through about FS3-4), the first coach who calls is going to be FINE. You'll get different personality types, but figure skating coaches are a flexible bunch, well able to adapt teaching style to the child in front of us.